Everyone has a favourite season in the vineyard. The austere beauty of winter; spring’s luminous promise; autumn’s ethereal mists.
But summer is almost impossible to resist. The vines, with their full, lush canopies of leaves held aloft by a few gnarled twists of trunk, begin to reveal what the vintage will hold.
With long, bright days under Kent’s big wide skies, it’s a wonderful time to visit the estate – to walk amongst the vines and enjoy the wines that come from this patch of soil, these plants and this place.
For the vineyard team, the view can never quite feel bucolic. There is too much to do. Jon Pollard, our Chief Vineyard Manager, Jim, Dragos and Adam, walk the vines carefully – their senses switched on; alert to all the changes.
“I love being in the vineyard first thing, before anyone else has turned up to work,” says Jon. “It’s a great opportunity to quietly walk a few blocks of vines and check on things without the phone ringing.”
In June, as spring fully gives way to summer, the pace of work in the vineyard changes. “Flowering is one of the most rewarding moments in the year,” says Adam, who looks after our vines in Sussex. “The flowers are so tiny, you can barely see them, but we watch them open and then it’s all hands on deck. We’ll select which to take off the vine – by hand – and which to leave on.”
From long experience, Adam knows which plants can support several bunches – and which can’t. “Some of our Pinot Noir gives huge, beautiful, open bunches of grapes – lovely to work with, but they don’t ripen if we leave too many grapes on the vine,” he says.
Then, once the vines have flowered, and the fruit is set, the die is cast. “We’ll be scouting the vineyards all summer,” says Jon. “Gathering information from the plants – this influences everything else we need to do to keep the vines healthy and look after the environment.”
In Sussex, Adam says likewise: “Our summers are a nice walk through the vineyards which we’re paid for,” he laughs. “We’re constantly in touch with the vines.
“It’s the thing that everyone likes: no matter what you do come summer, you’re always walking through, just pushing a vine back into the trellis, making sure it’s neat. Shaking it up a little. If you’re not in touch with the plant, then that’s when problems can creep in.”
While Jon and his team can’t control the weather, they do have a few tools at their disposal to help mitigate mother nature. “Removing the correct amount of leaves can influence the quality of the fruit and the health of the vines,” says Jon. “And of course we’re always on the look out for disease.”
As the season rolls on, with Swifts divebombing through summer skies, the cover crops flower and the fruit begins to swell. “In high summer, I love seeing the dragonflies in the vineyard,” says Adam. “They are such hungry little monsters that they need a lot of flies. So we’re obviously doing something right.”
Jon’s team have another – and perhaps surprising – task. The green harvest. To make sure the fruit ripens fully – and is as flavour-filled and concentrated as possible – the team will gently cut away secondary bunches of grapes. Sacrificing quantity in single-minded pursuit of quality.
“We’re considering the level of fruit on the vines, depending on which wine we’re planning to make with it. As the harvest approaches, we make adjustments to make sure that the fruit we pick will be at its best,” says Jon.
Then, in August, there’s a quiet moment.
“Just before veraison, when the grapes begin to colour, they seem to pause – the canopy is still moving and growing and we’re all still motoring along, watching and waiting for everything to shift gear.”
Walking, watching, waiting, looking, touching, smelling: it’s a physical job that pulls on all the senses. “Being involved with the plants is what makes a difference,” says Adam. “It’s about being connected. Until you’re actually looking at the vine – really looking, thinking about which canes to prune or tend – you’re not doing your job.
“The key to happy vines,” says Adam, “is being there amongst them.”
We'd love to welcome you to the vineyard this summer. You can pop in any time we're open, there's no need to book. Or, alternatively, you can find our ticketed events, tastings and experiences here.